Friday, 18 February 2011

What I learned from going to Speaker's Corner

The following is a sanitised version of the ideas I shared at our home group on 2nd Feb 2011.
1. The Hermeneutical Key (Gen 3v8-9)
Jay gives a whole talk highlighting theological differences between Islam and Christianity starting with these verses. The key point in these verses is that God on the Earth directly interacting with humans, something which could never happen in Islam. Two of the theological differences Jay talks about are sin and heaven/paradise.
In Gen 3 we see Adam and Eve hiding from God that is their sin has put a barrier between them and God. If God had visited the garden before (it seems reasonable to me that he would have done) then Adam and Eve wouldn't have been hiding from him, coz there wouldn't have been any sin. In Islam though God and mankind are separated even before sin comes, it is not sin that creates that barrier so sin in Islam isn't anywhere near as serious.
If man and God can walk and talk at the start then at the other end of history in heaven it seems reasonable that they will be able to walk and talk again. Certainly we will be in God's presence and be able to worship him. In Islam that separation will continue, God will not be in paradise with those that make it there. (Jay's paper)
2. The story of Joseph.
The Koran only has two complete stories; one of these is the story of Joseph in Sura 12. The bible story goes into much more detail; however amongst the details that they both include there are two differences.
The first is the price Joseph is sold into slavery for. The bible says that Joseph brothers "... sold him for twenty shekels of silver ..." (Gen 37v28). Here a shekel is a weight and 20 shekels is about 8oz. There is historical evidence that this is the right ball park figure for the cost of a slave in that era. Now the Koran says: "Then they sold him for a paltry price, a handful of counted dirhams; for they set small store by him." (Sura 12:20) and is talking about coins - something you count, yet coins didn't exist until 1000 years after Joseph. Showing that the historical details contained in the bible are accurate, yet the Koran gets these wrong.
The other difference is to do with Joseph's dream, the eleven stars and the sun and moon all bow down to Joseph's star. According to the bible in Egypt Joseph's eleven brothers all bow down to him, but Jacob is not recorded as bowing down to him and Rachel is dead (Gen 35v19) before the dream occurs (Gen 37v9). Thus what do the sun and moon refer to? the dream doesn't appear to be fulfilled. In Sura 12v100 Joseph claims the dream is fulfilled: And he lifted his father and mother upon the throne; and the others fell down prostrate before him. 'See, father,' he said, 'this is the interpretation of my vision of long ago; my Lord has made it true." In fact the dream isn't fulfilled that much better as Jacob and Rebecca don't bow down to him.
3. Trinity
Gen 1v1 "... God created ..." Here God is Elohim, which is the plural form - in fact it is a 3 or more plural. While 'created' is singular, this is grammatically incorrect in the Hebrew. This grammatically error could be God way of indicating that there is something unusual about him like he is not a unity but a trinity.
Gen 19v24 NIV: "Then the LORD rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens." Lord in this verse is YHWH the personal name of God that is often pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah. If we read back from this verse then we will see that the first Lord has been on the earth talking to Abraham for previous couple of chapters. While the 2nd Lord is in the heavens. So there are 2 YHWH's working together to bring about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Today the best known bible (memory) verse is Jn3:16 and probably the most important doctrine is the love of God. In the early church the most important doctrine was the incarnation and this verse was the best known bible verse.
In Exodus 33 there are two verses which would be contradictory with one another if God is only a unity. In v10 we have "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." that is Moses looking into God's face. While in v20 Moses is not allowed to look into God's face and is only allowed to look at his back. The trinity explains this seeming contradiction, in v10 Moses was speaking with the 2nd person of the trinity, while latter in the chapter it is the 1st person of the trinity that he is not allowed to look into the face of.
Relationships between human beings are fundamental to the way the world works. Why would a Unitarian God put relationships at the centre of his creation, but since there are relationships within the Godhead it would be quite understandable for a Trinitarian God to do this. Further in the bible God is Love, while in the Koran one of the names of God is 'loving'. Now love requires an object. For a Trinitarian God this is not a problem because there can be love for the Son from the Father and love for the Spirit from the Son and love for the Father from the spirit. While for a Unitarian God this is a problem because it makes him dependant/contingent upon his creation. This argument can be extended to show that love requires God to be a trinity not just a duality, but my understanding of that part of the argument is much more woolly.
4. Contradictions.
Jay did 3 debates with a Canadian Muslim called Shabbiar Alley in the 1990's. In the first of these Shabbiar produce a list '101 clear contradictions in the bible'. In the next debate Jay produced a paper giving explanations for these so called contradictions. Two of these are as follows.
2Sam24v1: Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
1Chron21v1: Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
So who was it that wanted the census? The result of the census was bad for the people of Israel. Satan wanted this as he always delights in people suffering, while God wanted it as a punishment on his people. So they both wanted it.
2Sam21v19: In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, ...
Now this contradicts the well known the Sunday school story in which David kills Goliath. However, in the Hebrew this verse doesn't scan it seems like there is a couple of words missing. In 1 Chron 20v5 it reads "... killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite ...". Which confirms that a couple of words have been lost, this could have happened as manuscripts were very fragile and if these words were at the edge they could have broken off.
5. Crucifixion
(We didn't get onto this issue due to lack of time.)
Sura 4v157 "... and for their saying, 'We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God' -- yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them."The standard Muslim interpretation of this koranic verse is that the person on the cross looked like Jesus but was not Jesus. Allah played a big trick on everyone and changed the appearance of someone else to make them look like Jesus. When investigating a crime or other incident the police would want to speak to people who actually saw what happened. The gospel writers and other first century historians who also mention the crucifixion were writing a few years/decades after the event. The Koran comes 600 hundred years later and so is too late to give any credence with respect to first century events. Now Muslims might response to that by saying that Allah is a perfect witness and so we should accept his testimony over all other things (when the Queen spoke up in the Paul Bural trail it was found innocent straight away). But what does that say about Allah? It says he is a deceiver and 'the best of deceivers' at that. Would God really be a deceiver? And moreover there are 2 billion Christians in the world today who are still convinced of this deception.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

wise men from the east

At our first meeting in 2011 in keeping with the season (Epiphany) we looked at the story of the wise men. We had a wide ranging decision which, if I recall correctly, included wondering how people who are deaf speak with regional accents, but we were wondering off the point by then.

We did think that in some ways it was strange that astrologers should play such a prominent role in this infancy narrative given the Israelites aversion to such ideas. We then tried to see if we could marry up the two infancy stories that are in the gospels, something that we do at some level every time we have a Nativity service. It looked like it might just be possible, but would mean that Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have had to take a lot of journeys, some quite long. It was an interesting exercise, but in the end I think it showed that these narratives are actually quite separate, written by different people for quite different reasons.

In Matthew and the story of the wise men from the East we are being told something about Jesus and his significance. He is not just King of the Jews, but rather has come for everyone, including the gentiles. In Luke we have Jesus born in stable and visited by shepherds, he is poor and his visitors are poor too, this Jesus has come for the excluded of society. In Matthew they live in a house and are visited by rich people and given expensive gifts, in Luke they live in stable and are visited by poor shepherds who bring no gifts except the message from the angels.

This two pictures of the significance of Jesus are not contradictory, but rather complementary. Jesus did come for rich and poor, Jew and gentile.

finishing off 2010...

.... better late than never?

In the couple of sessions at the end of last year we considered equality, what is it? and is it always a good idea? we followed this up by asking the question "Is Christianity fair?". We decided that in many ways it wasn't, for example the parable of the workers in the field all getting paid the same money for working different amounts of time. Generous maybe but not "fair" as we normally understand it. Which is just how the workers at the end reacted, you can just hear them saying "but it's not fair!".

Also we we looked at a TED video Diane Benscoter on how cults rewire the brain in which she talked about her experience of joining a cult and also how she left.  It did raise the question, is the Church of England a cult? we thought probably not quite :-)

The Beatitudes of Our Current Church Culture - Empire Remixed

The Beatitudes of Our Current Church Culture - Empire Remixed

In a recent sermon at Wine Before Breakfast, Joe AC, pastoral director ofParkdale Neighbourhood Church in Toronto concluded with these modern day Beatitudes from the perspective of our contemporary, self-satisfied church culture.
by Joe Abbey-Colborne
Blessed are the well off and those
with ready answers for every spiritual question;
they have it all.
Blessed are the comfortable;
they shall avoid grief.
Blessed are the self-sufficient;
they wait for nothing, they have everything they want,
and they have it now.
Blessed are those who are not troubled by
the injustice experienced by others;
they are content with realistic expectations.
Blessed are the ones who gain the upper hand;
they take full advantage of their advantages.
Blessed are those with a solid public image
and a well hidden agenda;
they are never exposed and see people
in a way that suits their purposes.
Blessed are those who can bully others into agreement;
they shall be called empire builders.
Blessed are those who can point to someone else
who is a worse person than they are,
they will always look good by comparison.
Blessed are you when people praise you, give you preferential treatment, and flatter you because they think you’re so great. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because it doesn’t get any better than this.
This is the way our church has always made celebrities of the best and brightest.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Theology of Tax - Christian Aid

At out meeting on the 29th September 2010 we looked at Christian Aid's campaign to Trace the Tax
This campaign looks at the way that companies can avoid paying taxes, both legal and illegal ways. This often results in developing countries not getting the tax revenue that they should get. Christian Aid is campaigning for transparency so people can see in which countries companies are actually declaring profits.

See Theology - Christian Aid: The Gospel and the rich: theological views of tax. which looks at the theology that underpins this campaign.

We started by thinking about attitudes to tax, in general individuals and companies see tax as something to be minimized as much as possible. There is a resentment of the tax that is taken by the government. Yet when we look at what tax is taken for, what it is spent on we (generally) value those services, eg. schools, health services etc. Often we make a distinction between tax avoidance (legal) and tax evasion (illegal) but I think that CA's paper challenges us about this distinction. How far should we, as Christians, go in reducing our tax? There are no easy answers to this question.

The notion that taxation is a kind of coercive and illicit appropriation of goods (and indirectly labour) that rightfully belongs to the taxpayer plays an important part in Anglo-American political rhetoric.
For Christians, assertions of such ‘rights’ cannot provide the most fundamental level of moral discourse .... Christian ethics is in the last analysis not a matter of rights, duties and laws. The Christian life is a response to one simple fact, that what God wants for his people is ‘to worship him, to be his friends, to eat with him’. The earth does not belong to the property-owner, for human titles to wealth are relativised by the deeper truth that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24:1). The fundamental category with which we need to understand the material world is as gift not as possession. And the purpose of the gift is communion (page 23/24).

CA's paper takes as a starting point the idea of relational theology, which is informed by the work of Karl Barth. God is a God in relationship, ie. the Trinity. God is also in relationship with us. We then are in relation with God and with our neighbour. The parable of the good Samaritan tells us something of Jesus' idea of who our neigbour is and so when we, or multi-nation companies, avoid paying taxes that we should pay we are damaging that relationship with our neighbour.

It follows from all this that the avoidance of tax, just as much as the illegal evasion of tax, constitutes a wrong or broken relationship between people and state, as does the failure of a state to collect the tax that it is owed. The fact that probably the majority of individual and corporate taxpayers do not see tax avoidance in these terms is an instance of the structural sin referred to earlier (page 6).
 The paper is very good and worth reading in full, not only for the underlying theology that informs the debate but for the examples of how this issues affects the lives of people in the developing world.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Life is not...

R.S. Thomas writes, “Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.” We find our home in the moment even as we seek to become something more than who we are in that moment. This places our home in the present, but assures that it is never static. To claim such a static home would be to pitch our tent in Babylon and embrace exile apart from the transforming work of God. The Kingdom is here and now, but it is never just here and now. We must always be seeking God as we make our home in God.

Julie Clawson

Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks - The Case for God

For our first meeting after the summer break we watched a short programme made by Rabbi Sacks. He invited four people who didn't believe in god to speak to question him about his understanding of god.

One was the novelist Howard Jacobson, a secular jew. Jacobson's main problem with Judaism was the idea that god might be interesting in the minutia of his life, the rules about what can be eaten etc. Sacks disagreed, feeling that it was vital that our day to day lives are patterned by our faith.

I can't remember the names of the other guests! One was a scientist who saw no place for god, thinking that as we learn more and more about our world the space for god becomes smaller and smaller.

Another guest, again a secular jew, challenged Sacks for his response to the holocaust, asking where god is in that kind of situation? how does the believing jew respond. Sacks was clear that for him the response of faith was to fight against that kind of injustice, that god was there with the victims. That we should cry out against injustice.

It was an interesting programme that sparked some good discusion within the group.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

our last meeting before the summer.... poverty

When we meet in july we looked at poverty and how it can be defined and understood very differently.

Should poverty be measured in absolute terms (eg. $1 a day) or is it better to define poverty in relation to the wealth of others in the same (or even a different) society.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


In a previous meeting we had looked at the doctrine of the trinity, this led us on to looking at creeds and how the idea of the trinity developed and became fixed (to some extent) in the ancient creeds that we still say in church today.

We decided to follow on from this by looking at what is a modern example of a creed, and that is the Basis of faith of the Evangelical Alliance.

This had been revised in 2005, the previous version had been written in 1970. 

It was interesting both to look at the content of the latest statement but also to compare the two and think about what had caused the compilers to change their ideas.

There were many differences, not least in terms of language, the 1970 statement used language that was not even usual for it's time being very formal and legal. The 2005 version used far more ordinary language. The 2005 version was also more inclusive re. women and men, the 1970 version spoke entirely about 'man' and 'men'. The 2005 version was quite a bit longer and often, it seemed, more explicit. We thought that perhaps this was as some ideas had being challenged since the 1970 statement was drawn up. For example there was no mention of Jesus' virgin birth in the 1970 statement but in 2005 it was mentioned, is this because in the gap between these statements people had questioned the idea of the virgin birth? In addition to being more explicit it introduced ideas about how evangelical christians should act, ie. to have concern for creation, justice and love, the 1970 version was almost entirely concerned with what evangelicals believed (should believe?).

There was a feeling that as soon as you try and put belief into a statement like this you create problems of interpretation, that you are both forced to try and be very precise without ever actually being able to completely nail down a meaning.

Personally I think that by their very nature creeds & statements of faith have the effect of excluding certain people (those who cannot sign up for it) from the group that has produced it. They are about defining who is in and who is out, who is orthodox and who is not. Much like the issues we currently have in the Anglican Communion in which different groups find it impossible to accept that others believe different things about, for example, woman being bishops. 

Certainly there were some members of our group that would not have been able to sigh up for the whole of the Evangelical Alliance's Basis of Faith.

Next meeting we'll be thinking about poverty, what is it and what can/should we do about it?

Saturday, 12 June 2010


Who Would Jesus Vote For?

Not a serious discussion of which party Jesus would have supported at the recent election but a way into thinking about the election and how we as christians should decide how to vote.

An interesting, and robust, discussion followed and in particular highlighted different approaches to support for poorer people in society. On one had seeing this as principally the Government's responsibility (through taxation) and on the other hand the responsibility of society as a whole with a special responsibility on those who are wealthy to intervene.

Poverty is a topic we will come back to at a future meeting.

sayings from the cross

For our first meeting after lent we looked at the seven sayings from the cross. As an exercise we had the sayings printed out on separate pieces of paper and were asked as a group to match them to the four different gospels. The seven sayings (in alphabetical order!):
  • I thirst
  • It is finished.
  • Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
  • Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
  • My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  • My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  • Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise
  • Woman, behold your son: behold your mother
I know there are 8 here, but one is in two gospels.

We scored about 50% how well can you do?

My thoughts in doing this exercise were to highlight the way we can conflate the gospels into one and that perhaps this is not always a good idea as each gospel is telling the story of Jesus in a particular way. In the end we only scored about 50% (not sure what we would get if we just randomly assigned the sayings, Jane or Doug any thoughts?).

lost gospels

At our meeting before lent (yes ages ago I know). We watched a programme about the many gospels that didn't make it into the bible. Many of these were written much later than the gospels that we find in the New Testament. Although the early church did not consider that these gospels should be included in what became the New Testament it was still interesting to see what kind of picture they painted of Jesus. What came across was the extent to which different writers 'saw' Jesus differently and told his story in a particular way to make a particular point. Something that we can see in the very different accounts we get in the four New Testament gospels as well.

This could be seen as a problem, eg. which of these accounts is the 'correct' one or it could be seen as an advantage as it shows there is not one orthodox way of seeing and understanding Jesus and his significance.